The Bethel AG Church International Worship Center, near Outer Ring Road in Bengaluru, saw a host of cars entering the church on Sunday morning and parking in rows on a vast ground within its premises.
The cars are parked facing an open stage, LED screens and speakers. While the passengers did not exit the car, many rolled down the window, waiting for the Sunday prayers to commence and start worshipping sitting in their vehicles.
This new initiative by the church in Bengaluru, which is called Worship On Wheels (WOW), calls on the devotees to congregate for the Sunday mass, all while maintaining physical distancing.
The WOW initiative, as the church describes, is “a contactless, drive-in format”, where the worshippers can park their four-wheelers and two-wheelers in a three-acre plot called the Temple of God, adjacent to the church building, and sit in their vehicles and worship along with the pastor, who will be heading the service on the stage.
Worshippers coming by walk and public transport can be seated in the building.
“Church-goers will be able to attend the service from the comfort and safety of their vehicles while ensuring that they adhere to the guidelines of social distancing,” said the church on its website.
How do you attend a church service during a pandemic, ensuring social distancing?— Revathi Rajeevan (@RevathiRajeevan) June 14, 2020
Drive-in, sit in your cars and pray.
Location: near Bethal AG church, Bengaluru
There's also separate service for those coming in two-wheelers and others who don't come in vehicles. pic.twitter.com/wankW7Tti9
In order to avoid crowding, the church has planned different time slots: 9 am and 7 pm for four-wheelers, and 7 am and 5 pm for two-wheelers, as the sun will not be harsh on the latter, Reverend Johnson V said.
For those seated in the church, the service will be at 11 am and 1 pm, and 12 pm for those live-streaming it.
“There will be a six-feet distance between the worshipers sitting in the church or vehicle, as per the government guidelines. Everyone coming to the worship service, be it in the church or sitting vehicles, must wear masks all the time. We have thermal scanners and sanitisers at the church entrance,” Rev Johnson told TNM.
The church has also listed out other physical distancing guidelines as stipulated by the Karnataka government, including turning off the engines of their vehicles, rolling down the windows and switching off phones throughout the services.
Those who wish to partake in the Holy Communion (a ritual of offering bread and wine to worshippers) will be given pre-packed packages consisting of the communion elements. “Volunteers, who will be wearing masks and gloves, will hand out these packets to the worshippers at the entrance of the ground. These were packed in a hygienic manner,” said Rev Johnson in a video.
Screengrab from virtual walkthrough of the WOW service
Devotees can drop the offerings and tithes into the buckets placed at the entrance of the gate, or online.
Common touchpoints like seating facilities, toilets, water, canteens and resource centres will not be available.
According to the pastor, worshippers will not be able to step out of the vehicle and walk around as they will be parked in a certain order. The church has asked the devotees to carry a bottle of water, too.
There will be a police force to help maintain the required norms and guidelines of the government, added Rev Johnson.
“I do not think this has been followed anywhere in Asia. The Bible mentions disciples worshipping, sitting in ships, on carts, and in different atmospheres as they did not have a church,” he said.
“Once the government announced the plan to open the churches and other religious organisations, we were waiting for the proper guidelines from the state government. As soon as we got that, we planned to do this drive-in format in the safest and contactless way to come together as a congregation. It took us over a week to plan and execute the plan,” Rev Johnson told TNM, adding that the mode of service will be followed for a few more Sundays.